Anti-Resolutions: 6 Things to Stop Doing in 2017
Jan10

Anti-Resolutions: 6 Things to Stop Doing in 2017

New Years Resolutions FitnessAs it’s January and people like to start and stop new habits for their New Year’s resolutions, I thought I would list a few bad fitness habits that we should all stop doing.

These are things that will hinder your results, leave you frustrated, or just flat out annoy everyone around you.

1. Stop comparing yourself to your favorite Instagram Selfie Guru

Here’s some home truths that will hopefully make you feel a bit better about your current physique.

– These people are professionals. It is literally their job to go to the gym and be in shape. They don’t work long hours in stressful offices, have screaming kids waking them up, or attend dinner parties full of rich food.

– Half of the girls have had plastic surgery and a lot of the guys are on steroids. No amount of training or discipline will catch up to that.

– They’re probably not happy. People in the fitness industry are some of the most insecure people around. When you define yourself and your value solely on your body, it is very easy to feel bad when you’re a bit bloated, your muscles look flat, or that cute chick in the gym didn’t check your biceps out.

– This amazing lifestyle and perfect photo? They got dressed up and did their makeup, simply to take the photo. They can’t actually afford to be there. They took 300 photos and scuttled home to choose the best one to see the light of day on Instagram.

2. Stop doing cardio before lifting

You do not ‘burn fat and then tone up’. That is not a thing. You burn fat by manipulating your metabolism. The best way to do this? Lift weights.

Doing cardio is just wasting energy (physical and mental) that will detract from your proper workout. Do cardio after lifting, or separately.

3. Stop eating dry chicken and soggy broccoli

You can get in shape without being this strict. In fact, you can get in shape without being utterly miserable at all!

You should eat clean, but there’s clean and then there is just stupid. Frankly, being too strict and one-dimensional isn’t healthy anyway. You’re missing out variety in your diet to get a full complement of nutrients.

Not to mention there is a 100% chance that you will binge eat on the weekend if you’re too strict during the week. You know this happens, and you know that you eat about 5000 calories in 2 hours on a Saturday night. Why not just split an extra 2000 calories over the week, enjoy your food a little, and not have the binge?

Bonus! You’re much nicer to be around when you will eat normal food. You can eat with family and friends, go to a restaurant or grab lunch on the go without flipping out. Trust me, I’ve fallen into this trap. People like you more when you have some degree of normality to your eating habits.

4. Stop leaving your weights all over the floor

If everyone put all of their weights away, they would all be 3.6% lower body fat from exerting all that additional energy.

Seriously, it’s not hard to put your weights back. I know it frustrates you when you can’t find the second of a pair of dumbbells because it’s scattered on the floor somewhere in a far flung corner of the gym. Why do that to other people?

It’s disrespectful to the gym and everyone else who uses it. You will always find that the biggest, strongest, most experienced guys are respectful of their surroundings and keep the place tidy. Maybe there’s a lesson there?

5. Stop looking for validation on social media

Here’s a novel concept. You can go to the gym…without checking in to tell everyone on social media that you are going to the gym.

I promise you, it still works. Your body doesn’t revolt at lack of social validation and refuse to grow fitter.

Really, why are you going to the gym? I’m sure you started because you want to make some internal changes to your body, your mindset and the way you perceive yourself. Don’t lose sight of that and just go through the motions to be someone who ‘works out’ but never gets anywhere because it’s just for show.

Real validation will come naturally, when you’re in great shape. People can’t help but look at you, give you respect and desire you. You don’t need to tell everyone you go to the gym. It is immediately obvious, just by looking at you.

6. Stop making excuses

You can make excuses or you can make progress. Choose one.

You must play the cards that you are dealt and make the best of the situation.

If you’re busy, someone else is busier than you and still putting work in at the gym.

If you’re naturally skinny/fat and fighting your genetics, someone else is genetically worse off than you and still putting work in at the gym.

If you’re intimidated, someone else is more intimidated and still putting work in at the gym.

Etc.

Realign with why you want to workout in the first place and find a way to make it work. it might not be perfect. Results might be slow and you might have to work twice as hard as the next person for the same outcome. So what? You can do the work and achieve something, or you can stay exactly where you are right now. Which do you choose?

I don’t usually do negative-oriented posts, so I thought I would mix it up with a little rant. These are some pet-peeves of mine, some as a fitness professional and some just as an avid gym user.

I get to experience gym culture on both sides – being and interacting with people who love the gym and see it as a core part of their identity, and also helping people who don’t like the gym, are unhappy with their body and desperately want to change it. I can empathize with each.

If everyone stopped doing these 6 things, I think we would all be a lot better off.

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Is Crossfit Right For You?
Nov28

Is Crossfit Right For You?

crossfit

 

Crossfit has been gaining popularity around the world for the last few years. It seems that new boxes, or Crossfit gyms, are opening on almost every corner. Crossfit Games have become events to watch, and winners are getting a lot more recognition as serious athletes.

 

So what is Crossfit? We’ve addressed it here before. Crossfit is a fitness program that is specially designed to improve fitness and health. It focuses on a variety of movements at a high intensity. Movements can reflect exercises used in gymnastics, running, rowing, weightlifting and more. Crossfit workouts change daily with the Workout of the Day (WOD) from the gym. The constantly shifting style of Crossfit means your body never gets bored and never gets too accustomed to one particular workout style, so you can get stronger and fitter faster.

 

Crossfit touches on every aspect of working out—cardio, endurance, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination and balance. Anyone from a total novice to an elite athlete can benefit from doing Crossfit. Still, it’s a tough and intense workout that might not be quite right for you. Here are some things to consider to determine if Crossfit is right for you.

 

Workout Environment

Some people absolutely thrive in a group class environment. Having a teacher to guide them and lots of other people around them encourages them to do more and push themselves. That’s great! Others, however, prefer to work out alone. They’d rather go on a long solo run or swim laps for an hour than force themselves to get pumped to be in a room full of sweaty people. If you love group workouts, then Crossfit might be for you. It’s a collaborative atmosphere with everyone cheering each other on. Many people find their fellow Crossfitters become some of their closest friends. If not, it’s probably best to skip the box.

 

Your Competitiveness Levels

This goes along with the group vs. solo workout concept. If you’re highly competitive, then Crossfit could be a great way for you to push yourself further. You’ll see everyone else working out and their results, making you want to reach your goals, too. If you think fitness goals are personal and prefer to keep them to yourself, then a workout where achievements are highly publicized isn’t for you.

 

Your Goals

Crossfit won’t get you to be good at any one specific thing, unless what you’re looking to be good at is Crossfit. It is great for improving your overall fitness levels. Because it focuses on so many different aspects of fitness, it’s a great full-body workout. If you want to train for something specific, like a 5K race or triathlon, Crossfit may help improve your fitness, but it won’t help you reach those kinds of goals.

 

Importance of Credentials

There are lots of great Crossfit gyms and instructors out there, but like anything that rapidly gains popularity, there are some less than stellar ones, too. There aren’t really many credentials the owners of Crossfit gyms have to have. It’s fairly easy to get a personal training certificate online if you’re willing to pay for it. With such strenuous, high-powered exercises, it’s important to know what you’re doing. If you have a solid fitness background and know proper form and technique, you’ll be fine locating a quality gym. If not, be wary of people jumping on the bandwagon to make a quick buck.

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Choosing the Right Gym for You
Nov25

Choosing the Right Gym for You

Gym

Finding a new gym can be difficult and intimidating, especially if you’re not super experienced. There are a lot of things to consider. Here, we’ve broken down some of the most important aspects to help you find a gym that’s right for you.

Price

This is probably one of the most important aspects when picking a gym. You don’t want to completely break the bank on a fitness center with top-of-the-line equipment and an abundance of amenities, especially if you’re not going to use it all. Decide how much you can reasonably pay each month for a quality gym. Understand that some centers will be dirt cheap, but they still might not be a great deal. It’s worth paying a slightly higher price for a clean, well-stocked gym.

Location

The location of the gym is right there after price on the level of importance. If you have to go too far out of your way to get to the gym each day, chances are you won’t go often. Look for facilities that are near your house, office or on a route you take daily. When you’re driving by your gym every day, it’s hard to make excuses not to stop in for a quick workout.

Size

The size of the gym is important. Some people like large gyms with lots of other people and movement. They like the social aspect and may like making friends at the gym. Others want a small, quiet facility where they can go and work out in peace. Figure out what you want and need in a workout space.

You’ll also need to look at the physical size of the space. If this is a gym in a large, urban area that could attract a lot of people, be wary if it’s too small. That could lead to long wait times for machines and equipment.

Equipment

Like the size of the gym, the amount of equipment it has matters. Are there enough machines to support the number of people there? Will there be long wait times for your favorite pieces of equipment? You don’t want to waste too much time at the gym waiting in lines. You’ll also want to make sure that the equipment is quality and up-to-date. Old machines can be dangerous, as can cheaply made ones.

Offerings

Some people want their gym to offer more than just a few cardio machines and some weights. If you like taking group classes or want a personal trainer, look into what each gym offers. If classes are available, do they cost extra? Do you have to use one of the gym’s trainers, or can you bring someone else in to work with you? Choose the gym with the best selection of options for you.

Amenities

This is probably the least important part of choosing a new gym, but amenities can make or break you gym experience. A nice locker room, clean showers and space to safely store your things are crucial. Some gyms also have lap pools, hot tubs, saunas and smoothie bars. Many are starting to have spaces for childcare. Look for the amenities that you would use and that would make working out regularly easier and more appealing to you.

Many gyms allow you to use their facility for free for a day or even a week to try to convince you to join. Take full advantage of those offers and really try to figure out which one is the best fit. Plus, you’ll get a few weeks of gym access with no cost!

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Best Winter Workouts
Nov21

Best Winter Workouts

Winter

The summer gets the reputation as the best time for outdoor workouts, there are great exercises you can do outside in the wintertime.

Ice Skating

Pull out those skates and go for a spin! Even a leisurely skate can burn up to 250 calories an hour, so there’s no need for professional speed. Bring the whole family and make a fun day activity out of it. You could also join an ice hockey league with your office or local recreation center. You won’t even feel guilty about the hot chocolate you’ll drink after.

Skiing

This is a popular wintertime activity for people around the country. Even those who don’t live anywhere near snowy mountains often take a trip to hit the slopes. You can get a great workout just doing some moderate downhill skiing. You could also take on a bigger endeavor with uphill cross-country skiing, which can burn up to 1,000 calories an hour.

Snowboarding

If you’re sick of skiing or just want a break from the crowds, try snowboarding. Instead of facing forward on two skis, you ride a board down the mountain like a surfer. It requires a different type of balance and a lot of core and leg strength.

Snowball Fight

It’s not exactly a sport or workout, but a classic snowball fight can burn a few calories. Making snowballs, throwing them at your opponents, and building forts all take a lot of energy. Plus, you’ll be ducking and dodging incoming snowballs.

Shoveling Snow

It’s not exercise, and it’s not exactly fun, but shoveling show is actually torches calories and is a great upper body workout. It can burn up to 300 calories, and you’ll feel it in your arms, chest and shoulders the next day.

If you just can’t bear to face the cold, then winter is the perfect time to try some new indoor workouts.

Try a New Class

If you’ve been dying to get into that pilates-yoga fusion, SoulCycle or kickboxing class, now is the perfect time to try it. You won’t feel guilty about not being outside enjoying the weather, and you’ll still get a great workout. Plus, so many people let their exercise routines slip this time of year, so there may be open spaces in a normally packed class.

Do A Home Video

Home workout videos have come a long way. You don’t need to don your leotard and leg warmers anymore. If you’re snowed in or just have zero motivation to leave the house, give a workout video a shot. You can buy a DVD, or rent or download any number of videos. Try yoga, kickboxing, Zumba and more from the comfort of your home. You won’t even have to be nervous about looking silly in front of strangers. If you don’t want to commit to buying a video, YouTube has plenty of great ones you can follow along with.

Do a TV Workout

Make sitting in front of the TV a productive workout time. You can do different sets of exercises, like squats and push ups, during commercial breaks. You can even make watching your favorite shows into a workout game. Look up the drinking game to your favorite show, but instead of taking a drink when certain things happen, do a set of exercises instead!

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It’s Never Too Late to Start a Postnatal Exercise Routine
Nov14

It’s Never Too Late to Start a Postnatal Exercise Routine

Postnatal

It doesn’t matter if your child was born 10 minutes ago, or 10 years ago, once you’re a mother it’s never too late to begin a post-natal fitness plan. The changes a woman’s body undergoes to grow and birth a child are substantial, and if left un-addressed, can linger on physically for the rest of a woman’s lifetime. Statistics show that the vast majority of women, roughly 80%, will have had a child by their 40th birthday, which means you’re likely not alone in your “Mommy Bod” woes.

When is it Safe to Begin Exercising?

For recent mothers, experts recommend taking it easy for the first 6 weeks after a normal healthy birth, and perhaps postponing exercise longer with complicated or C-Section births. In the first 6 weeks, your uterus is still enlarged and your joints are still working to pull themselves back closer to their pre-pregnancy position.

Though physically you may be approved for exercise at 6 weeks, keep in mind that pregnancy hormones are still slowly tapering off and will not return to pre-pregnancy levels for at least 3 months. For many new mothers, the postnatal period is marked by anxiety and irritability due to irregular hormones, and add in the stress and sleeplessness of caring for a newborn and you’re likely to give up on the idea of exercise all together.

It’s Never Too Late

With the stress an anxiety of a newborn, many mothers don’t prioritize their own health and fitness while their child is young. Perhaps your little one is just about to start Kindergarten (or College…) and your own health is just finally starting to make it back onto your priority list. What does a late (or very late) post-natal workout look like?

Abs

During pregnancy, the abdominal muscles stretch and separate to allow space for the growing child.  Roughly two thirds of pregnant women will develop a condition known as diastasis recti, which means that the muscles separate enough to cause a “pooch” of the stomach, that may not go away on it’s own, and can linger for years if not addressed by exercise.  This abdominal muscle separation means your core will lack critically needed support, and could result in significant ongoing low back pain.

Pilates exercises that focus on the Transverse abdominis (the abdominal muscle that circles your waste like a belt) can help pull your Rectus abdominis (the 6 pack ab muscles) back closer together, and increase core stability. 

Attending a pilates class in person (or watching videos online) is a great way to start repairing your abdominal muscles, but to begin practicing on your own at home, lay on your back with your knees up and your feet flat on the floor, and your spine neutral with just a bit of open space below the small or your back.  Gently pull your belly button toward your spine, while keeping the space open below the small of your back.  Hold for a few seconds, and release.          

Pelvic Floor

The pelvic floor is a muscle that stretches from your pubic bone and tail bone, and forms the “floor” of your abdominal cavity, keeping all of your internal organs supported.  The pelvic floor has to stretch dramatically to allow for a child to be born, and even in c-section births the hormones released during pregnancy cause a loosening of the pelvic floor muscles.  Just like your abdominals, your pelvic floor is essential for bodily stability, and honestly, just keeping all of your organs in the right place!

To begin to exercise your pelvic floor, try lying on your back with your knees raised and your feet flat on the floor.  To isolate your pelvic floor, imagine you’re trying to stop the flow of urine when you really have to go.  If you feel your glutes contracting, you’re in the wrong place.  Another way to try to visualize the contraction is to imagine your sits bones are drawing together, without moving your legs.  Once you’ve found your pelvic floor and mastered these basic exercises, try these exercises from the Ultimate Pelvic Floor Workout.

Shoulders and Upper Back

Issues with the shoulders and upper back may seem at first glance to be unrelated to pregnancy, but many women experience issues with their shoulders and upper back in the post natal period.  The same hormones that loosen your pelvic floor muscles and abdominals also have an impact on your shoulder girdle, and with all the side sleeping during pregnancy, and potentially side lying breast feeding in the post natal period, shoulder and upper back pain, or shooting nerve pain down either the front of your arm into your thumb, or the back of your arm into your pinky finger can linger well after a pregnancy without a concerted effort to bring your shoulder girdle back into alignment.

A good place to start is with “serratus pushups” which is a modified push-up that uses your shoulder and rib muscles, rather than your arm and chest muscles.  Come down to the floor in plank position with your arms straight and lined up below your shoulders.  Without bending your elbows, slowly lower your chest toward the floor by drawing your shoulder blades together on your back.  Be sure that you’re maintaining a strong plank position and keeping your abs engaged.  After you’ve brought your shoulder blades together, push back out of the position by engaging your shoulders to expand the space between your shoulder blades and drawing your chest away from the floor.  At no point should your arms bend, this entire exercise is in your shoulders and moves only your shoulder blades. 

To find more shoulder and upper back exercises, try this video to get you started.

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How to Reliably Gain Muscle
Nov11

How to Reliably Gain Muscle

Muscle

“I’m a hard-gainer”.

“I’m naturally skinny”.

“I train hard, but I just can’t put weight on”.

It’s pretty common to hear guys saying things like this. They’re trying to gain muscle and ‘bulk up’, but it’s not working. They are not getting significantly more muscular, despite trying their best in training.

Here I will show you the 2 things you must do to reliably gain muscle. This will work for anyone, regardless of age or training experience. Let’s be honest; in your first year of training, or when you’re young, just thinking about the gym will have you gaining muscle. This post will show you how to do it, regardless of those factors. It works just as well for someone with a decade of training experience as it does for someone totally wet behind the ears.

Muscle Building Basics

The fundamental thing that absolutely must happen for you to gain weight, is for you to be in a calorie surplus. You cannot put weight on without calories.

Now, if you are just in a calorie surplus, and not training properly, you will probably just get fat.  Nobody wants that, so you also need the right training stimulus, to ensure you are gaining the right kind of weight.

We want the weight in the right places, not around the gut. To ensure you are doing this, you need to be controlling your calories and training hard.

Eating to Build Muscle

It’s important that you are eating enough calories, and doing so consistently, to gain weight. A lot of people who claim not to be able to gain weight simply do not eat enough.

If you’re someone who is not naturally a big eater, doesn’t have a big appetite or finds that they can’t face food early/late in the day, you are going to have to acknowledge this and work through it. It doesn’t mean you can’t gain weight. It might just mean it’s a little bit uncomfortable. If you want it enough, it is what you have to do.

Start by calculating your maintenance level of calories for your body weight, there is a calculator here (http://www.iifym.com/iifym-calculator/).

Be sure to track your bodyweight, as you need to keep an eye on how you are going. Weight will naturally fluctuate, so measure 1-2 times per week, and plot it on a graph.  Don’t get too caught up with any individual data point – it will naturally deviate up and down – instead, focus on seeing a consistent trend upwards on the graph.

The My Fitness Pal app allows you to track your daily calorie intake, and also plot your bodyweight on a graph.

I suggest also keeping track of your body fat. A small gain of body fat is fine, but if you are putting on predominantly fat, you need to alter what you are doing.

Aim for 1-2lbs per week of weight gain. Be aware that the more aggressively you gain weight, the more likely you are to gain body fat. To really put only muscle on, and not gain any fat, you have to do it slowly. However, a lot of people do not have the temperament for slow and steady progress. If you prefer to see quicker results, you will likely gain a little body fat too. You can always lose the fat later, when you switch back to maintenance calories.

A muscle building diet will be high in protein and carbohydrates, and relatively lower in fat. Protein is required to build muscle and recover from training. Carbohydrates are the fuel that will lead to weight gain.

As your body digests carbohydrates it releases insulin, which is one of the most anabolic hormones in the body. It is insulin that will drive weight gain, so focus on eating carbs and protein frequently. Again, it is the average over time that counts. You do not need to hit the exact amount of protein every single day, but on average over the course of a week you want to get it right.

Training to Build Muscle

Eating will put the weight on. Training will ensure it is the right kind of weight. If your intent is to build muscle, you need to focus on muscle building activities – lifting weights – and relatively less cardio or conditioning.

If you are a runner or Crossfitter, of course you will want to continue doing your sport. Just drop the overall volume of cardio and increase the frequency and volume of weight training for a period of time. You will be gaining muscle that will help you perform better in the future. You will be shooting yourself in the foot if you’re trying to build muscle while doing a lot of conditioning work.

The best way to train to build muscle is with high frequency, high volume bodybuilding workouts. Keep reps in the 6-20 range and focus on time under tension. This means controlled tempo, lowering the weight slowly, eliminating momentum and focusing on squeezing the working muscles as hard as possible. The weight used will be lighter, but the training effect will be greater.

The other focus is simply on training hard. Push yourself beyond what you have done previously. When you are eating in a calorie surplus (and sleeping plenty, too) you will recover from training well and should be able to make quick progress.

Leave your ego at the door and push yourself to failure. There is no gain from having more weight on the bar. Benefit comes from exhausting your muscles.

Training each muscle group twice per week is generally the best split to gain muscle. Use an upper/lower split 4 days per week, or a push/pull/legs 5-6 days per week. This ensures every muscle is getting hit twice per week and being forced to adapt quickly. When you’re eating a calorie surplus and focusing on gaining weight, you can train harder and more often without exceeding your ability to recover.

Other Considerations

The final part of the equation is maximizing your recovery by ensuring you get plenty of good quality sleep, remain well hydrated and keep your overall stress levels down.

You do not build muscle in the gym, you build it when you recover from training. You recover when you sleep. Have a focus on getting 8-9 hours of sleep per night.

You also need to maintain your hydration levels by drinking 3-5L of pure water per day. Keep your general stress in check, because stress hormones are catabolic – they break the body down – and will inhibit you building muscle.

Building muscle comes down to some simple equations. Eat enough calories and apply the right training stimulus and you will build muscle. There is no short cut, magic system, super-food or training plan. You simply need to adhere to the basic principles of physics and remain consistent.

Most people’s failures come from not being consistent. Keep measuring your progress so you can see exactly where you are on your journey, and the progress you are making.

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